Process of assessment rests upon identification of target groups

The curriculum of the Saakshar Bharat Mission, a project of the National Literacy Mission (NLM), has been revised to meet the educational needs of neo-literates and non-literates above the age of 14.

According to NLM officials, the focus would be on functional literacy, traditionally acquired knowledge of the individual, and the question papers would be prepared in regional languages.

S.S. Jena, Chairman, National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS), says the process of assessment rests upon identification of target groups, registering them and enabling them to appear for examinations at flexible timings. As many as 365 districts across 19 States have been identified for this project as part of the mission. Seven of the districts are in Tamil Nadu, of which five – Erode, Villupuram, Salem, Dharmapuri and Perambalur – would receive immediate attention. The assessment modality would be tried out in other places gradually, said Mr. Jena.

The new assessment and certification strategy is scheduled on March 6, and would include asking the individual to read aloud road signs and posters. Testing of arithmetic concepts such as interest calculation, proportion and metric units would also be included. “Persons who have managed to learn by themselves without attending the classes conducted by NLM would also be able to appear for the exam by registering at adult learning centres,” he added.

The NLM data shows that around 1,25,513 individuals from Tamil Nadu were certified as being literate in the pilot literacy assessment held in August last year. As many as three lakh people have registered to be eligible for the upcoming assessment.

Labour activists, however, feel that while illiteracy in rural places is a matter of concern, a vast section of unorganised labour force working in cities such as Chennai have been deprived of such facilities. Besides addressing the shortage of evening classes for adult illiterates in the city, there is a need for community literacy programmes and certification schemes for the largely illiterate labour force, they add.

Geeta Ramakrishnan, president, Unorganised Workers' Federation, says that ‘literacy talks' are often ineffective for slum dwellers, pavement dwellers, vendors, weavers, construction workers, migrant workers and seasonal migrant workers. “Hardly 10 per cent of the informal sector is literate leading to all forms of violations of medium wages and exploitation,” she added.

Besides, the assessment of literacy in cities and rural areas has to be different, says Sujatha Mody, president, Garment and Fashion Workers' Union. “The traditional knowledge of workers is much appreciated in rural places, but in cities it is not these skills but the manual labour of the person that counts,” she says.

Experts say that since wages of a worker go down as his age increases in the labour market, they have to be not only made literate to be aware of their rights but also trained to climb up the ladder in skill acquisition. Workable schemes to encourage women workers to read are required, the say.

“Since most women workers in the city work overtime and also do household work, evening classes in cities do not work,” says Ms. Mody.

Literacy schemes, say experts, need to be more comprehensive in nature and should be based on a scientific understanding of the ground-level scenario.

“No socio-economic profiling of Chennai has been done till now, especially on employment and income levels in the informal sector,” says M.G. Devasahayam, managing trustee, SUSTAIN. Many of the programmes prioritised are carried out purely on assumptions without a proper study of poverty, he adds.

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Vasudha VenugopalJune 28, 2012